And now the exciting conclusion to Associate Editor Jim Bessent‘s account of the responsibilities of a production editor from manuscript to finished codex. Find Part 1 here.
1:33 pm A co-worker pulls me aside and asks, in confidence, “In the phrase ‘More than 50,000 sold…’, is more than a preposition or a conjunction?” I blather confidently and incoherently that it is a preposition, one of those two-word varieties, the object being the implied “books” or “units.” I add, increasing her skepticism, that if you remove either more or than, it ceases to make sense, ergo it must be a preposition. But that would also be true if it were a conjunction. I am loath to fire any more synapses in quest of this grammatical chalice. Why not just change the construction and eliminate the question entirely? You see, the real issue is whether or not than should be capitalized. If a preposition, the answer would be no; if a conjunction, yes. The phrase is appearing on the cover of one of our books, so it is also partly a design issue. The final decision? All caps. The whole phrase. Problem solved. Except I still don’t know whether it’s a preposition or conjunction, and what if I encounter it in a situation where all caps is not an option? This has to be addressed. Mañana.
You Can Call Me Et Al.
2:00 pm What’s that speck after et al.? I brush the page vigorously, trying to dislodge it, but without success. I take out my microscope to observe more closely. It’s a period. What’s that doing there? And it hits me: I have been committing, or allowing, this punctuational transgression for months, perhaps years. Al is not Latin for all. All is English for alia. Therefore, al. is an abbrev. Don’t tell anyone.
A Consistentness Conundrum
3:21 pm Here’s one for you. One of us is working on a book, and the author has spelled extraversion also as extroversion, or vice versa. I never realized it could go both ways, but a dictionary check shows extroversion to be the preferred spelling, although extraversion is not incorrect. One of the little buggers eluded detection and had to be apprehended and sentenced to correction in reprint. So if that’s the case with extro and extra, you’d think it would be the case with introversion and intraversion. Anh, anhhh. It’s always introversion. It’s hard to imagine a setup more tailor-made for confusion than this one.
Concerning a Common Authorial Predilection
That same proofreader with the between/among disorder is also constantly changing continually to continuously, continuously to constantly, and constantly to continually. These three words pop up… continuously. There is something about ongoingness that has special appeal for authors of business books: “General Electric is constantly improving its manufacturing processes.” “The human resources department is continuously conducting training sessions.”
3:42 pm I’m checking the corrections on some galley pages and have just green-flagged the four-hundredth change of one of these “c” words to another. I want to support my proofreader, but what’s going on here? Okay, constant connotes faithfulness, and yes, continuous suggests that something is occurring without interruption. But if it’s happening again and again, he uses continually. Methinks we might be carrying persnicketicity to new and unnecessary heights. TO THE DICTIONARY! And what do we find? Sure, a strong case can be made for the distinctions noted above, but in every definition, each is given as a synonym for the other. So what are we in danger of here? . . . a strained idiom. Hahahahahahahahahahaha!!!
4:13 pm Time is running short, but let’s do one more. All of us associate editors spend a good bit of energy ferreting out and changing that to who. “I am looking for the person that ate my brownie.” Horrors. The person who ate my brownie. Inversely, inanimate objects, as opposed to human objects, usually call for that or which. You wouldn’t say, “It is more costly to run a car who takes premium gasoline.” You’d say that. But here’s a nice little option for you: You can, sometimes, if you feel like it, use whose with an inanimate object: “She stood beneath the old oak tree, whose bark reminded her of he.” (Poetic license.) You could also say “the bark of which.” Your call. Of which can sometimes sound too formal. It’s nice to have an alternative. You’re welcome.
4:59:59 pm We’ve reached the end of another fun-filled, rough-and-tumble editorial day. We log out, align the edges of our reference books, don our fedoras, line up in ascending order of height, and march out to the elevator. Downstairs, we take our leave and head home, where for dinner we will have alphabet soup before falling into peaceful slumber and dreams of synonyms, antonyms, and sentence diagrams.
Jim Bessent is an Associate Editor at AMACOM. He works in the production department and sees finished manuscripts through the various stages of production: copyediting, proofing, indexing, all correction cycles, etc. Prior to joining AMACOM, Jim worked as an editorial freelancer and had a small collectibles business. Visit our website for freelance editorial opportunities.